Skip to Content

Comprehensive Lifelong Care: A Holistic Approach

Helping a primate deliver offspring, transporting a marine predator on a stretcher, determining the humane end for a domesticated ruminant.

At the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ certified facilities, the concept of Whole Life Care transcends mere words—it embodies the daily routine. This comprehensive approach involves a collaborative effort among all staff and volunteers associated with these establishments.

Let’s begin with the natural process of birth.

“We customize the supervision and care of reproduction and gestation for each animal species,” explained Jimmy Johnson, the senior director of animal health at the [Sand tiger and sandbar shark move and health exams.] in Denver, Colorado. According to Johnson, certain species, like amphibians, undergo relatively uncomplicated deliveries, while others may present more challenges.

When Eirina, an orangutan, became pregnant, the entire team sprang into action.

Throughout her eight-and-a-half-month gestation period, specialists closely monitored the fetus, adapting Eirina’s diet as necessary. A meticulous birthing plan was devised by the animal care team, with even a human obstetrician on standby in case of any complications during delivery.

Eirina experienced bouts of morning sickness, a condition that Cindy Cossaboon, the Zoo’s primate care specialist and [Sample from a sand tiger shark reproduction exam.] husbandry advisor, could empathize with from her own pregnancy. Following consultations with a nutritionist, Eirina was offered a soothing tea blend containing natural ingredients like raspberry, nettle, and spearmint, which had alleviated Cossaboon’s morning sickness. Eirina took to it well, finding relief from her symptoms.

Despite preparations and a designated birthing team, Eirina successfully gave birth unassisted on August 27, 2023, to the first orangutan offspring born at the Denver Zoo in several years. Both mother and baby, named Siska, are reported to be in good health.

“The arrival of a newborn from an endangered species is a significant milestone,” remarked Johnson.

While nutritionists play a crucial role in every pregnancy and birth, ensuring a healthy journey for both mother and offspring, the dietary needs of every species are vital for their overall well-being at every life stage.

Nutritional requirements have evolved over time, mirroring the shifts in human dietary understanding. For instance, zoos previously fed primates sugary, low-fiber fruits like ripe bananas, oranges, and apples, as noted by Mike Maslanka, the senior nutritionist and head of the nutrition science department at [Sample from a sand tiger shark reproduction exam.] in Washington, D.C. However, a realization dawned that such fruits, bred for human preferences, might not align with the nutritional needs of zoo-dwelling species accustomed to a more fibrous, less sugary diet.

“We recognized the drawbacks of mimicking human diets for animals,” Maslanka explained. Consequently, nutritionists have transitioned towards offering high-fiber, low-sugar vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and onions.

Similarly, the feeding practices for carnivores underwent a transformation—from whole carcasses to processed meat enriched with essential minerals and vitamins—addressing issues like metabolic bone disease. This shift has yielded positive outcomes, promoting physical well-being and reducing repetitive behaviors in carnivores.

Maslanka emphasized the importance of a well-informed dietary approach, highlighting the nuanced understanding required to provide appropriate nutrition tailored to each species.

Stay tuned for the next part of this engaging narrative on animal care and welfare.